After Walt Disney passed away in 1966 there was a change in the quality of animation released by the studio. Although you can see Walt’s involvement in some of the features released following his death eventually the films didn’t do quite as well as others had in the past and while some of them did fairly well, none of them really managed to surpass what Walt had helped to create while he was alive. It wouldn’t be until 1989 when Disney would truly manage to grab the attention of fans again with The Little Mermaid and the film was one of four different releases which would help to put Disney back on top with their theatrical animation, at least for a brief period of time.
Aladdin is the thirty-first Disney theatrical animated film and just like many of their other releases it is based on existing folklore, in this case the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp which is among many that appear in One Thousand and One Nights. The setting is the fictional city of Agrabah and hidden in the desert there is tale of a hidden cave filled with unimaginable treasure. The Grand Vizier to the sultan, Jafar, has located the cave but he has yet to find someone who can enter it and retrieve what he’s desires, a magical lamp.
Jafar is told to find a diamond in the rough and this individual happens to be Aladdin, a young man considered to be little more than a street rat and common thief. Aladdin has a chance meeting with Jasmine, the daughter of the sultan who is displeased with being forced into marriage and intends on running away but the palace guards find her, quite by mistake actually, when they are seeking to bring Aladdin to Jafar. While held captive Aladdin meets an old man who tells him about the Cave of Wonder and helps him to escape. The old man who is really Jafar hopes that Aladdin can retrieve the lamp for him but Aladdin ends up trapped inside and releases the genie from the lamp who, as we all know, will grant him three wishes. Having been smitten with Jasmine Aladdin decides to use a bit of the genies magic to change his status in life which once again attracts the attention of Jafar.
When Ron Clements and John Musker teamed up to create The Little Mermaid, they took a bit of a different approach when compared to the other Disney films which involved a princess. If you look at most of the earlier releases you’ll realize that while they are princes involved, other they are little more than minor characters and lack and real personality but this didn’t remain true as Disney moved forward. In The Little Mermaid, Prince Eric is just as much of a character as what Ariel is and with Aladdin there’s a slightly different approach taken as well. Despite Jasmine being another Disney Princess, the sixth actually, Aladdin himself is really more of the main character. This doesn’t mean that Jasmine is given little screen time but this is one of the few instances where Disney is really focusing more on the dreams and aspirations of the male lead who really only wants to find a means to change how the world sees him.
When Aladdin was released Disney hadn’t yet developed their Disney Princess franchise which wouldn’t exist until several years later. Instead Aladdin in many ways is an animated film which is aimed more at a male audience due to the heroics of the main character though it doesn’t take the approach of being what would normally be categorized as a “guy movie.” There is action and adventure but there is also the romantic side of the film and of course let’s not forget comedy as there is plenty of it found during the course of the movie.
This is where Disney would really manage to grab the attention of audiences wasn’t necessarily in the story or the characters but rather the voice cast and one person in particular. Having Robin Williams onboard to provide the voice of genie wasn’t just a bold move for Disney but it was also the beginning of something different. Generally voice actors in animated films worked only in animation and rarely did anything else and the reverse was true of Hollywood actors; most of them wouldn’t dream of doing voice work. Williams’ involvement in Aladdin was just one of the things which pushed screen actors into a different way of thinking about animation and certainly having Tom Hanks and Tim Allen part of the cast of Toy Story just a few years later helped as well.
There are some aspects of Aladdin which are very common overall when you examine Disney’s history of animation. A main character needs to have an animal sidekick and both Aladdin and Jasmine have them. For Jasmine she has her pet tiger Rajah while Aladdin pals around with his monkey Abu who often comes across as being almost akin of Donald Duck particularly when it involves him “speaking.” But heroes aren’t alone and villains generally need a sidekick as well which is where the parrot Iago comes in with the easily recognizable voice talent of Gilbert Gottfried. Even the magic carpet at times seems to be drawing some influence from past Disney animated shorts.
Fans of Aladdin have been waiting for years for the film to finally come to blu-ray but it’s still not the original theatrical version. Over the years Disney has made a few changes to Aladdin. The first of these is the long rumored piece of dialog “C’mon, good teenagers, take off your clothes”. This has been debunked and in reality Aladdin says “good kitty” to Rajah while a second voice says “take off and go” but Disney has modified the scene so there are no longer be any confusion. The song Arabian Nights was also changed and the line “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” after complaints from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee who felt that the line was insensitive.
As always Disney brings an impressive transfer to home video. Aladdin looks fantastic on blu-ray. In particular I found some of the action scenes such as Aladdin’s flight through the Cave of Wonders particularly amazing although I guess I hadn’t realized in past viewings that there was CG used in the movie but I think for the time and limits of technology back when the movie was produced it still holds up fairly well.
The blu-ray features two commentary tracks but sadly these aren’t new but instead simply carried over from the past DVD release of the film. That doesn’t mean that Aladdin is just the old features and Disney has found some new material to include. The best are the outtakes from Robin Williams. There is also a lengthy look at the Broadway musical, a short about the Easter eggs found in the film, the history of Genie, and Ron and Jon discuss their careers together.
At this point I believe that for the most part Disney has now managed to get all of their animation library out on blu-ray. Some of these have actually been done as Disney Movie Club exclusives although there is one other film in their library I know that fans have been desperately wanting to see released on home video but to date, it seems that Disney isn’t willing make any effort. Aladdin has been one of the most highly anticipated releases in the Disney animation catalog and finally fans can scratch yet another title of their and while most aren’t going to get terribly excited about The Return of Jafar / Aladdin and the King of Thieves getting released next year, the original film on blu-ray is a wish come true at long last.
Mike is the resident reviewer for Couponing to Disney and his own site Underland Online. He has a toddler daughter and is obsessed with Haunted Mansion and all things Disney. You can read Mike’s complete bio here.